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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hawaii County to consider new bid to ban plastic shopping bags

By Nancy Cook Lauer
West Hawaii Today

HILO, Hawaii -- The last time Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann introduced a measure limiting plastic bags, the administration vetoed it as being too broad.
This time, a new mayor says the measure isn't broad enough.

"I'm sort of perplexed," Hoffmann said Friday. "The previous administration chided us for going too far, too quickly."

Mayor Billy Kenoi earlier this week stopped just short of saying he'd veto the bill that's scheduled for action Tuesday by the County Council's Environmental Management Committee.

"If it's about littering, let's have a littering bill then, something more comprehensive,"

Kenoi told the Environmental Management Commission at its meeting Wednesday. "Let's have a well-crafted bill. Let's have a bill that's truly enforceable."

The latest version, Bill 193, which would go into effect Jan. 1, 2011, bans only plastic bags at checkout. Included in the ban are plastic checkout bags of noncompostable or compostable plastic that are not specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse. Paper bags would not be prohibited.

Nonprofits and unincorporated community booster groups would be exempted from the ordinance. In addition, businesses will be allowed to make plastic checkout bags available for purchase until Jan. 1, 2012.

Businesses in violation face fines of $100 to $500. The measure is similar to bills passed by Maui and Kauai counties.

The 2008 County Council approved a more stringent bill but Managing Director Dixie Kaetsu, as acting mayor, vetoed it. Council members attempted to override Kaetsu's veto but fell one vote short of the six needed to do so.

Council members still in office who voted in favor at the time in addition to Hoffmann were South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford and Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole.

Hilo Councilmen J Yoshimoto and Donald Ikeda voted against the 2008 bill.

Yoshimoto said at the time the bill was too broad because it affected nonprofits and mom-and-pop businesses as well as the big supermarkets. He said Friday he still can't support the bill because he thinks "it's a people problem, not a plastics problem."

Like Ikeda, Yoshimoto said the bags are useful to many people, who reuse them for trash can liners, pooper-scoopers and the like.

Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong recused himself because of a conflict of interest. He is a district manager for some island supermarkets.

The Hawaii Food Industry Association opposes the measure, while another retailer, Russell Ruderman, owner and president of Island Naturals, is in favor of it.

Three other councilors, North Kona Councilman Kelly Greenwell, Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi and Ka'u Councilman Guy Enriques, weren't on the council in 2008.

Opponents question whether a ban on plastic bags at the checkout counter will really have an effect on how much litter is on the roadsides. Kenoi said a bill should do more than just send a message.

"That's not what law's for," Kenoi said. "Law's not for (sending) messages."

Proponents say plastic bags are among the worst litter culprits because they catch the breeze and fly around, getting caught on fenceposts and in trees. They also make their way to the ocean, where they are hazardous to wildlife.

"If we really mean to protect the aina, we need to start taking these small steps," Hoffmann said. "If we try to take a comprehensive approach, we'll probably get nothing."